Torn ACL

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) stabilizes a pet’s knee joint and keeps the lower leg bones in place beneath the thigh bones. An ACL tear can be partial or complete, causing immense pain and suffering for an animal. Being the most common cause of rear leg lameness and one of the major causes of degenerative joint disease, ACL ruptures cause gradual and irreversible damage to joint cartilage. Though the condition is very common, it is still considered to be quite serious and requires immediate veterinary care. A majority of ACL tears need surgical stabilization of the knee joint and the sooner the surgery is performed, the less likely a pet is to suffer secondary injuries such as a second ACL tear in the opposing hind leg.

An ACL tear can happen from acute trauma or from chronic repetitive injuries. Most happen during physically demanding activities like jumping, playing, running, or roughhousing. Most commonly, pet owners report their pet stumbling and being unable to get back up – holding its leg at an awkward angle. It is important to note that all breeds, genders, and ages are susceptible to ACL tears, and overweight pets are at an increased risk. Helping your pet maintain a healthy lifestyle with proper nutrition and exercise can help lower this risk.

What symptoms would my pet exhibit if they tore their ACL? 

  • Arched back in attempt to force weight onto front limbs. 
  • Begins to side-sit with no apparent purpose. 
  • Decrease in muscle mass. 
  • Reluctance to use one or both hind legs. 
  • Reluctant to jump, run, or stand. 
  • Sudden and severe lameness in one or both rear legs. 
  • Weakness.

Surgical treatment for a torn ACL

There are numerous therapies available for ACL ruptures, and combined with anti-inflammatories and rest, they can help manage the pain caused by an ACL tear. But, these therapies will never fully cure the injury. In these cases, we believe that surgery is a pet’s best chance to fully restore motion and permanently manage pain.

There are a number of various surgical techniques and more are being developed all the time. During your pet’s exam, we will determine which technique is best for their circumstance. After surgery, rehabilitation will take anywhere from 2 to 4 months for full recovery. In most cases, we prescribe anti-inflammatories and medication to help with cartilage repair. During the recovery period, pet owners are advised to help their pets maintain a healthy weight by limiting their food intake and switching pet food to a healthier brand. Pets will also need their exercise restricted. Long, controlled walks will help prevent muscle loss without overexerting rear leg ligaments. Finally, some pet owners also see it fit to have their pet attend physical therapy for rehabilitation purposes. 

If you have any questions about ACL surgery, feel free to contact our office at your convenience.


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